Monday, February 20, 2006

What fun!

Is there anything in the world as appealing as a six-month-old puppy? Despite the rigors of housebreaking and cleaning up wreckage, Cassandra really is a love. She is old enough now to learn, and she is attentive, quick, lively and responsive.

Yesterday we did a long walk in the fields, a pre-launch of the winter challenge I am beginning today. Start with 5,000 steps (two and a half miles) a day and work up to twice that over eight weeks. Simple compounding at ten percent each week will do it. The first, perhaps the biggest challenge is to get back to some meaningful level of activity every day.

I am the Queen of Behavior Modification. If there is something I want to introduce into my daily routine, I know how to do it. Set goals, measure relentlessly. No self bashing, but keep measuring. If you don’t get there, analyze the roadblocks and systematically remove them.

For many years that I lived on Staten Island and commuted to work on Wall Street, I had a healthy daily exercise routine. I caught the six o’clock ferry, was in the gym at 6:30, which gave me time for daily aerobic conditioning, weights three times a week, stretching (sheer joy to me), and even a leisurely shower and sauna before I got to my desk at 8:20 or so.

Obstacles that I overcame in designing my workout mornings were many. Here are a few of the solutions.
• Have five sets of workout clothes so that laundry is never an excuse.
• Sleep in them.
• Put your suit on over your workout clothes—nobody on the ferry cares. If you put on your suit, rather than carrying it separately, you are less likely to forget critical items like your blouse.
• Wear your sneakers and keep your dress shoes (black and navy) at work.
• Go to the gym every day. When the clock goes off, get up and get dressed. Don’t even think about the possibility that you might not go. If you think you can’t do it this morning, never mind, go. Once you get there, the odds that you won’t actually do something—even just a little stretching and sauna—are very slim.
This schedule worked for years, until I changed jobs to work on the trading floor where the workday starts at 7:00. I never successfully made the transition to late afternoon workouts.

So I am trying to design a similarly robust exercise schedule that I hope will last me for the rest of my life, now that I know that working on trading floors and in investment banks is dangerous to my health, now that I know I absolutely must manage my daily routine as a matter of life and death.

One approach that is helping me is to think about activity not only in terms of steps but in terms of time. Most people walk at a rate of two miles an hour, so my beginning level can be equated not only to 5,000 steps but also to an hour and fifteen minutes of activity a day. Think of my friend Mary ( ) who walks in her home. She breaks up her ten miles a day into three sessions—so many minutes in the morning, the largest block at lunchtime, and so many in late afternoon. Taking off from her model, I might do forty-five minutes in the morning—lark that I am—, then twenty minutes at lunchtime to learn to take a break in the middle of the day, and then a short stroll to unwind at the end of the day. I put the greatest number of minutes at the time of day I can most control, before other people’s demands have wrought havoc with my schedule and my energy level.

Next week, I will have to add more minutes, miles, and steps to each time of day. This week it is enough to establish a new routine.

My best hope, of course, is that being obligated to go out and play with this wonderful little girl puppy does not feel like obligation at all. As daylight hours lengthen, we will be out in the morning for a long romp across the fields, working on solidifying her recall skills and refreshing brother Toby’s. At lunchtime, I come home to take the puppy out of her kennel for a break, and this enforced schedule has already—over the last several months—pried me out of my office and away from the computer for a healthy mid-day break, to which I can now add a short walk. Evenings will be my new challenge, but maybe not even. As we slink toward spring, it will be no burden to prowl my two acres, picking up sticks and debris scattered by the winter winds, peering this way and that at how the garden might be reshaped, and watching for the first new green shoots.

This is after all why I moved to Vermont. To live closer to the earth. To live a healthy life. To live a happy life.

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